One of the best things about Montpelier, Vermont is the fact that I can walk into the State House to attend a bill hearing and, armed with an opinion and some data, help shape the way governance happens in Vermont. This extends to life outside of government, too. The bureaucratic structure is sufficiently flat and I am sufficiently credentialed to be able to contribute to conversations about how the schools work, where we can identify and address social injustice, and how we can as a city and a region best live sustainably. In many ways, this place is paradise for a dilettante-ish, self-important busybody like me.
One of the worst things about Montpelier, Vermont is the fact that it usually seems like if I want good schools for my children and all the other children, a community that pursues economic and social justice, and laws that create and safeguard a society that works, I have to fight for each of those things in the smallest of forms. At first it seems easy enough – I only need to chair a social justice committee or work with the schools to write grant applications for foreign language instruction and computer literacy programs. But soon enough I find myself encountering bureaucratic indifference, conservative resistance, petty turf wars, onerous regulatory hurdles, and, most frustrating, a do-nothingness founded upon widespread and unshakeable faith in the liberal-progressive exceptionalism of this place – a perspective that obscures the ways in which classism, racism, gender inequality and xenophobia are alive and well.
The elementary school has, for the last few years, had a morning snack program run by parent volunteers. This year, there is no such program (although they claim it will start again next month) due to a lack of volunteers. In its past incarnation the program was a logistical nightmare – parents filling out detailed snack orders specifying day-by-day what they would like their children to have for snack out of the 20 or so options. Parent volunteers tabulated the orders and worked daily to fill them and deliver them to each classroom in addition to acquiring the various foods – yogurt, veggie cups, bagels, rolls, etc.
I can´t say that I was sad to see the snack program founder. Instead, we send our kids with an extra piece of fruit to have for morning snack. Then, however, we heard that some children (in particular many kids taking hot lunch) arrive with no snack and that often the children are hungry in the afternoon.
In Sweden children have a morning fruit break. My impression is that most people bring a piece of fresh fruit from home but I also visited many schools and work places that have a fruit service delivering fresh fruit to the site. My idea was to see about establishing a fruit program at the school here but my initial inquiries into the subject left me reeling. There were rules and regs about food acquisition, there were turf battles about food storage and processing space, there were folks who said that just having fruit would be unfair to the kids who don´t like fruit.
After consultation with mei-mei´s teacher, I recalibrated. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and bought 45 assorted organic apples, tangerines, pears and bananas (25 dollars). I washed them, put them in a big bowl and delivered them to the classroom this morning. I instructed mei-mei that she could pick her snack from the bowl and she could encourage her friends to do the same. I asked the teacher to call me if they were running out of fruit and said that I would take the remainder home at the end of the week. After a couple of weeks in which the teacher shares with me if it works and how I might tweak things to make her life easier, I will contact the other parents and ask them to help out.
Sometimes you just need to cut through the BS.